Argentina expects to remove the Falkland Islands from British control within 20 years, the country’s foreign minister has told The Independent.
Hector Timerman, who is visiting London, said the tide of international opinion was against Britain and pointedly ruled out any need to persuade the islands’ 3,000 British citizens of his country’s claim on “Las Malvinas”.
He accused Britain of militarising the South Atlantic in a grab for oil and natural resources.
In uncompromising language which continues Argentina’s recent attempts to force the sovereignty of the Falklands up the international agenda, the foreign minister demanded face to face talks between London and Buenos Aires - adding that next month’s referendum on the islands British status “doesn’t mean anything”.
Mr Timerman last week rejected the offer of talks with William Hague after the Foreign Secretary insisted that representatives of the Falklands’ government should also be present. He is now not expected to meet any Government ministers during his visit.
Speaking at the Argentine embassy in central London, Mr Timerman refused to discuss whether the diplomatic package he wants to offer Mr Hague would include a proposal for joint sovereignty and said he believed Britain would soon be forced to reach an agreement satisfying his country’s requirements on the islands, known as the Malvinas in Argentina.
The Argentine foreign minister said: “I don’t think it will take another 20 years. I think that the world is going through a process of understanding more and more that this is a colonial issue, an issue of colonialism... We don’t support the occupation of foreign lands, and the Malvinas case is the occupation of a foreign land.”
Mr Timerman said Argentina would “respect the rights” of the Falklanders but insisted the country had no need to persuade the islanders of the rectitude of its claims on their territory.
He said: “I don’t have to persuade them. The United Nations says there is a conflict between the United Kingdom and Argentina. I don’t have to persuade anybody. We have to apply international law and accept the resolutions; if not the UN becomes a body that is only useful when it backs the powerful.”
The foreign minister brushed aside any significance in the referendum scheduled next month by the Port Stanley government to ask Falklanders if they wish to remain British, adding that Argentina intended to accommodate the “interests but not the wishes” of its population.
In the joint interview with The Independent and The Guardian, he said: “There is a difference between interests and wishes. The people living in the Malvinas will have their interests taken into consideration, but not their wishes. That is what the United Nations has said, many times.”
Anglo-Argentine relations are at their lowest ebb for many years following the passing last year of the 20th anniversary of the Falklands War in 1982, which saw the deaths of 258 British soldiers and 649 Argentinians after a naval task force was sent 8,000 miles across the Atlantic to expel an Argentine invasion.
The discovery of oil and an announcement last month that a liquid gas find off the islands is also commercially viable has exacerbated tensions between the two countries.
In an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron last month, published to coincide with the 180th anniversary of the Royal Navy’s arrival on the Falklands, Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, called on Britain to “negotiate a solution” to the sovereignty dispute as demanded in a 1965 UN resolution.
Accusing Britain of increasing “isolationism”, Mr Timerman said Argentina had renounced any intention to re-take the Falklands by force and questioned the United Kingdom’s motives for continuing to station a large garrison on the islands, placed there to deter any Argentine attack.
Rejecting comments attributed last week to a British Government source that Argentina had become “a bit fanatical” in its pursuit of the Falklands issue, he said: “We have been trying to find a peaceful solution for 180 years. I think the fanatics are not in Buenos Aires, [but] maybe in the United Kingdom because they are 14,000 kilometres away from the islands.
“I think they are using the people living in the islands for political [purposes] and to have access to oil and natural resources which belong to the Argentine people.”
The Foreign Office today reiterated its position that it was “right and proper” for Falklanders to be involved in any discussions about the islands between London and Buenos Aires. Britain has long insisted there will be no change to the sovereignty of the Falklands “unless and until the islanders so wish”.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The people of the Falklands are British and have chosen to be so. They remain free to choose their own futures, both politically and economically, and have a right to self-determination as enshrined in the UN Charter. This is a fundamental human right for all peoples.
"As such, there can be no negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless and until such time as the Islanders so wish.
"The UK has administered the Falklands peacefully and effectively for nearly 180 years.
"We want to have a full and friendly relationship with Argentina, as neighbours in the South Atlantic and as responsible fellow members of the G20, but we will not negotiate away the human and political rights of the Falkland Islands' people against their will or behind their backs."